RCMP eyes Canadian financial ties to Tamil migrant ship
Vic Toews says asylum seekers may have paid up to $50,000 to board ship, raising questions about illegal aid to pay for voyage
Daniel Leblanc and Marten Youssef
Ottawa and Vancouver From Monday's Globe and Mail
Published on Sunday, Aug. 15, 2010 10:49PM EDT
Last updated on Monday, Aug. 16, 2010 7:00PM EDT
Ottawa wants to choke off financial links between this country's Tamil diaspora and the human traffickers who sell passage on ships to Canada.
Public Safety Minister Vic Toews said he has been told the organizers of the voyage of the MV Sun Sea, which reached Canadian waters on Friday with more than 450 men, women and children on board, charged up to $50,000 a passenger for a potential total haul of more than $20-million.
Inside the Harper government, questions are being raised as to whether Canadian residents helped pay, Mr. Toews said in an interview Sunday. It is a criminal offence to give money to a banned terrorist organization or to participate in human smuggling.
Mr. Toews said he is worried by reports from his officials that the journey could have been organized by the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam. The Tamil Tigers, as they are known, were banned as a terrorist organization in Canada after an RCMP investigation found evidence of substantial fundraising voluntary and extorted from legitimate Tamil immigrants to Canada.
The RCMP confirmed Sunday that its investigation of the Sun Sea could include human smuggling.
Obviously they will follow every connection between the payment of money and those who received it, Mr. Toews said.
Mr. Toews said all of those on the Sun Sea have made refugee claims, which will come before immigration tribunals beginning Monday.
Officials said over the weekend that conditions on the ship were adequate, with plenty of food and a functional sanitation system. Still, it emerged on Sunday that a 37-year-old male passenger died of an unspecified disease during the trip and was buried at sea.
There is nothing to indicate criminal intent at this time, the RCMP said in a statement. The police investigation into any other potential crimes, including human smuggling, continues and can take a great deal of time.
Overall, the Harper government is satisfied with the way its officials handled the Sun Sea, saying boarding the ship in Canadian waters was the best way to allow the RCMP to prosecute any organizers on board.
While Ottawa wants to get rid of the perception that Canada is an easy destination for human smugglers, Mr. Toews said the only way to prevent ships from travelling to Canada in the future is to stop them before they leave their port of origin.
Once theyre gone, its virtually impossible to stop them [heading] for Canada, other than if they come into our territorial waters, Mr. Toews said, calling for increased co-operation with Asian countries and Australia on that front.
Even as some Canadians are criticizing the refugee claimants as queue-jumpers, Mr. Toews said Canada is not about to turn away migrant ships before they arrive in Canada.
There are humanitarian reasons why that might not be advisable, he said. I want to ensure that we do things in a humane way, and yet deal very firmly with those who are profiting from the trafficking of human beings.
The migrants are believed to be largely Tamils from Sri Lanka, and the Harper government said intelligence sources give it reason to believe the passengers include human traffickers and people linked to the Tamil Tigers. A federal government source has said Ottawa puts stock in reports that two foreign ships are in South Asian waters collecting passengers with an eye to coming here.
What's next: Migrants to appear before tribunal
As many as 500 migrants are about to come before a tribunal where they will be required to prove their identities and show they pose no risk to Canada before they can be released from custody.
The hearings will be conducted by the Immigration and Refugee Board starting at 1 pm Monday in downtown Vancouver. Officials there call it an unprecedented workload for the board.
Its a huge challenge for us, said Melissa Anderson of the IRB. We have mustered all of our resources and called on people who are retired. The children among the passengers will be given priority, Ms. Anderson said.
At the hearings, the detainees will be given a list of lawyers from which to choose, and will also have the opportunity to appoint their own legal counsel.
Contact between immigration lawyers and those in custody has already begun, with at least one female passenger speaking to a lawyer on Sunday, according to Sarujan Kanapathipillai of the Canadian Tamil Congress.
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